Saturday, December 31, 2011

CR Review #52: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Every year after Thanksgiving, we pull out all of the Christmas DVDs we've accumulated over the years for the kids to watch. And we find that we have a good number of variations on A Christmas Carol -- Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, Looney Tunes (no, not recommended), and my personal favorite, Mister Magoo. This year, my 7 year-old (soon to be seen reviewing books for the CBR-IV!) had lots and lots of questions about Ebeneezer Scrooge while watching Mister Magoo work his way through Dickens' story. And I found that I didn't have lots of answers for her, as my Scrooge knowledge was completely based off of movies and cartoons, as I had never read the story. So I ran to my kindle and downloaded in post-haste, and am so glad I did.

By now, most of us know the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his love of money and hatred for all things Christmas related, so it wasn't the story that was such a delight for me. What made me enjoy the story more than I expected was the writing and the language, plain and simple. The words and language used by Dickens were never less than enjoyable, and in some cases, worth reading over and over.

And now, I can answer my kids' questions...
Was Scrooge an orphan? No.
Why was he alone at school? Why didn't his parents pick him up? According to his sister, their father was just plain mean.
How many children did the Cratchits have? Well, I'm still not completely clear on this least 5...maybe more.
What was the deal with those people who stole Scrooge's bed curtains? They might as well have been graverobbers, they were so disgusting.
Did they really eat razzleberry dressing and woofle jelly cake? No, only in Mister Magoo's story.

Anyway, that's review #52 for me -- a full cannonball. So glad I did this and am looking forward to next year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CR Review #51: Crossed by Ally Condie

Earlier this year, I read Matched, the first in a trilogy of books about a future society where marriage is arranged by "society" and in the instance of Cassia, who is matched with her life-long BFF Xander, a rare mistake is made in her match. Cassia is mistakenly matched with another boy she knows, Ky Markham, but the mistake is corrected and she is matched with Xander. Cassia should be happy, but of course instead, she falls in love with Ky. And at the end of the story (SPOILER), when Ky is taken away from Cassia by society and she decides to risk everything -- her family, her match with Xander, and her status as a citizen -- to find him.

I didn't love Matched, but didn't think it was a terrible story. I assumed I would feel the same way about Crossed, but boy, was I wrong. I could barely get to the end of Crossed, and really, could have cared less what happened to any of the characters (except for young Eli) by the end.

In Crossed, the narration alternates between Ky and Cassia. Every tedious chapter details how they are trying to survive, how much they love each other, and how hard they'll try to be together again. Ky's chapters also talk about how XANDER HAS A SECRET and how he doesn't trust the society rebels who call themselves THE RISING and are led by the mysterious PILOT. Cassia's chapters talk about how much she wants to be a part of THE RISING and can't wait to join them with Ky (who, according to Cassia's new friend, just might be the Pilot).

Its no surprise that Ky and Cassia and their rag-tag group of travelers meet up about halfway through the book, and then they talk and talk and talk and talk about THE RISING and whether or not they should try and join up with them. And Ky and Indie (Cassia's new friend) talk about XANDER'S SECRET.

By the time the end came along and they made their final decision regarding joining THE RISING, I had lost complete and total interest. Honestly, this book could have been condensed into about 10 pages of information about society and the rebels, and used as an introduction to the next book, and we would be no worse off.

I can't say I'll be picking up the next installment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

CR Reviews #47 - 50: Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings and Perfect Fifths by Megan McCafferty

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading Sloppy Firsts , the first of five books about Jessica Darling. I really enjoyed her humor and sarcasm, and her true-to-life friends and other acquaintances. I liked the doubt that Jessica had about herself, and the realistic high school scenarios painted by McCafferty. I immediately emailed my library and put the other four books on hold.

I just finished reading the remaining books (all in a row), and while none of them were as good as the first, and some were better than others, I'm glad that I stuck with it to find out what happens to Jessica (and, to a lesser extent, to Marcus and the rest of the characters).

Quick overviews, and of course, lots and lots of spoilers:

Second Helpings takes place in Jessica's senior year of high school. She's still pining for Marcus Flutie, but he doesn't seem to be reciprocating, so Jessica dates his best friend, Len. Handsome and smart, Len should be everything Jessica is looking for in a boyfriend, but he just isn't as interesting as Marcus, and he simply can't compare. After a while, Len tires of being "second best" and dumps Jessica (on Valentines Day, no less), leaving Jessica to wallow in her Marcus misery. However, all is righted when on prom night Marcus proves his love for Jessica, leaving us to hope that they live happily ever after. Other tidbits: Best friend Hope is still living in TN, neighbor Bridget is now dating Jessica's french buddy Percy, Jessica is led to apply to Columbia by her former crush Paul, and both Jessica and Marcus spend time with her grandmother Gladdie.

Charmed Thirds begins halfway through Jessica's freshman year at Columbia. Struggling to keep a long-distance relationship with Marcus going while she is in NYC and he is in CA (attending a buddhist college of some sort), Jessica begins to doubt whether she and Marcus should be together. They eventually break up (or do they? she doesn't really know) and she begins to date classmate Kieran (when she should definitely know better). Jessica graduates a semester early, and when she is about to embark on a road trip with best friend Hope, Marcus pops back into her life, ready to start over.

In Fourth Comings, Jessica and Hope are living in Brooklyn while Marcus is about to start his freshman year at Princeton. Jessica doesn't want to be the girlfriend of a college freshman and decides to break up with him, but Marcus thinks that instead of breaking up they should get married. He gives her a week to think about it, and in that week she writes and writes about their lives and relationships, trying to make the right decision for their future. My least favorite of the books, as the insecurities and doubts that Jessica has that once made her seem so charming now make her seem selfish and a bit annoying.

Lastly, in Perfect Fifths, Jessica and Marcus randomly run into each other after years apart. They spend 24 hours together and talk about what happened between them and how things went wrong. Almost written entirely in dialogue, I enjoyed this one for the most part, but did miss the interactions with the supporting characters. However, the introduction of supporting character Mr Barry Manilow almost made up for the lack of others in this one. Nicely tied up all the loose ends for most of the characters in the five books and once again made the characters likeable for me.

In short: while these four books don't live up to the standards of the first, the second and fifth almost make up for the weaknesses of the third and fourth. Definitely worth reading if you like your main characters filled with snark (although, sometimes too much snark) and you like Barry Manilow and 80s references.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

CR Review #45 & 46: Please Ignore Vera Dietz and Sloppy Firsts

I'm slowly finishing up the reviews of the books I had piled up over the past few months. And while I don't think I'm going to make it to a full Cannonball of 52 books, I outdid the original half-Cannonball that I pledged, so I feel good about things.

I recently read two great stories (both considered YA, but really, they could relate to anyone), both with two strong female characters: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King and Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty.

Vera Dietz is a high school senior who also works a full-time job as a pizza delivery driver. She lives with her dad (her mom left them years before) and is still grieving the death of her best friend Charlie, who died earlier that year. Before Charlie's death, they had severed ties and he had gone to make new, questionable friends and do things that were out of character.

Only Vera knows the truth about what happened the night that Charlie died, but Vera is not ready emotionally to talk about it to anyone -- her father, the police, etc. And until then, she is constantly haunted by thousands of images of Charlie, which scares her but also gives her a bit of comfort.

I really liked Vera as a character -- she was smart and funny and full of delicious sarcasm -- and I could barely put the book down.

I also really enjoyed Sloppy Firsts, the story of Jessica Darling. Jessica starts the story as a high school junior, upset that her best friend Hope has recently moved away due to the horrible death of her brother. Jessica feels alone -- she doesn't really like her friends, she doesn't think her parents like her, she isn't interested in Scotty (the boy who likes her). It isn't until she meets Marcus, the school stoner and notorious ladies man, that she seems to feel anything at all.

I saw that there are 4 more Jessica Darling books and can't wait to tear through them. This was entertaining and breezy, but still filled with funny and realistic scenarios from high school (of course her high school crush turned out to be gay -- didn't everyone's?).

Definitely recommend both books.

Weekend Away

Home from an extended weekend in Boston -- the first time all five of us have flown at the same time. Not as bad as I had feared, our kids knew what to do and how to behave, which was a relief. The other kids on the plane, well, that's another story. One kid on there was the absolute worst behaved I have seen in a while, and his mother was clearly to blame. I try not to point fingers in cases like this, but there was no doubt that the mother was at times ignoring and at other time encouraging his behavior. Screamed for the whole flight at 7am on a Saturday morning. Not a great way to start the weekend.

And then B and I both came down with strep throat, which we didn't get diagnosed until we landed on Monday. I felt so bad for her, she tried so hard to have a good time with uncle Doug :(. Here's hoping the rest of the family escapes the wicked strep!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

CR Review #42 - 44: Blood Wounds, Before I Go To Sleep, Austenland

#42 Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

A few years ago, I came upon the Life As We Knew It trilogy of books by Pfeffer -- the story of what happens in various parts of the country when the Moon is suddenly thrown off course and comes much closer to earth. I thought the first book was great (seriously, how is this not a movie?), the second book was interesting, and the third book was actually pretty “meh”. Still, I went into Blood Wounds optimistically, hoping for the best. Too bad.

Blood Wounds tells the story of Willa, who lives with her mom, perfect step-father, and spoiled, over-achieving step-sisters. One day she finds out that her estranged father has murdered his wife and the three daughters that Willa knew nothing about, and that he was potentially on his way for Willa and her mom.

The story starts out well enough, but really, ends up being about how terrible it is to repress your feelings. Willa is a cutter BECAUSE SHE CAN’T TALK TO ANYONE ABOUT ANYTHING. Ugh.

Not recommended, especially if you liked the “Moon” trilogy.

#43 Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson

I had heard a lot about this book before I got it from the library waiting list. I keep seeing it pop up on Top-10 lists for 2011 and was quite excited about it.

Before I Go To Sleep tells the story of Christine, a woman with absolutely no memory of anything that has happened to her in the past 20 years. She wakes up every day as a “blank slate” -- she doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know who is lying in bed next to her, she doesn’t understand why the reflection in the mirror is of a woman who is in her late 40s.

And every day, Christine’s husband must explain to her that she was in a terrible accident that caused her to lose her memory.

At the urging of her therapist, Christine begins to keep a journal, to help her put her day-to-day life in order. And as she writes -- and reads over what she has previously written -- she finds herself starting to piece her life story together, realizing that many secrets are being kept from her and many lies being told to her.

The book and the mysteries within start off strong -- but I found that by the end I was really disinterested. I was really hoping the book would be as mysterious and exciting as Memento (the only other amnesia mystery I can think of), but it didn’t quite pull it off.

#44 Austenland by Shannon Hale
Jane Hayes is a 30-something New Yorker who finds that no man in her life can compare with Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy. Her wealthy great aunt thinks Jane needs to get over her obsession and sends her on a three week vacation to Pembrook Park -- a British estate where guests (along with hired actors) must dress and act as if they are in Jane Austen’s era.

If you can get past the absolute ridiculous plot set up, the book isn’t terrible. I knew exactly what would happen to Jane at the end of her three weeks, but it was a fluffy and enjoyable story that was written fairly well. Not literature at all, but a nice way to pass the time for less than $3 on Kindle.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

CR Review #39 - 41: The House at Riverton, Where She Went, Blood Red Road

#39 The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading The Distant Hours by Kate Morton (see my review here). I loved Morton’s language and her ability to weave past and present storylines together, blending to create a beautiful story and surprising mystery. And I’m a sucker for a long book.

I “liked” The House at Riverton, but didn’t love it. The wonderful writing and clever story were still there, but I just didn’t feel the same connection to the characters. Riverton tells the story of Grace, a young girl who is sent by her sick mother to work at the Riverton estate in the years before WWI. Grace becomes obsessed with the family that lives there -- Lord Ashbury and his extended family, in particular the grandchildren David, Emmeline, and Hannah.

The story switches between the past (as Grace spends time at the house, and eventually becomes maid and confidant to Hannah), and the present, where a 98 year old Grace helps a young film director who is making a movie about a scandal and murder that happened at Riverton (and that Grace happened to witness).

While I enjoyed the detail of the “Upstairs/Downstairs” life at Riverton, I just didn’t care all that much for Grace and the choices she made. Still, Morton is a talent, and I’ll definitely be adding The Forgotten Garden to my list for Cannonball 2012.

#40 Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I also recently read If I Stay, the heartbreaking story of Mia, the young girl who loses her entire family in a car accident and then must decide to die with them or to stay and live with her grandparents and her boyfriend, Adam (read my review here).

Where She Went takes place three years later, and is told from Adam’s perspective, which is a nice change of pace. It seems that since Mia woke from her coma, she went of to Juilliard to become a star cellist, and then just stopped talking to Adam, more of less breaking up with him.

Adam is now a huge rock star, with a movie star girlfriend, but he is still hung up on Mia. One day in New York, Adam is on a layover, on his way to London for a world tour, when he sees that Mia has a concert that night. He gets a ticket and stops backstage to see her...and then they spend the night walking the city and talking. Both are looking for closure to their relationship but are afraid to really open up to each other.

My one issue with this book was that I didn’t like the character of Mia AT ALL this time around, and could not wrap my head around the fact that Adam would drop everything for a high school girlfriend that he hadn’t heard from in almost three years. But still, a nice bookend to the original, and glad to have another point of view to the story.

#41 Blood Red Road by Moira Young

I recently read a review of Blood Red Road here on the Cannonball site, and for some reason, it stuck in my mind. When I saw it at the library, I picked it up and stuck it in my bag, and then sort of forgot about it. A week later, it was poking out of my library bag and I decided to give it a read -- and I’m quite glad I did.

Like many dystopian future YA stories, Blood Red Road is the story of a young girl (Saba) who must fight against evil to hold on to what little she has. Her life is changed in an instant, when men cloaked in black come riding onto her farm and proceed to kill her father and kidnap her twin brother Lugh before riding off. Saba swears that she will come after him...but what will she do with her annoying 8 year old sister, Emmi?

Saba and Emmi travel across desert and mountain, meeting new and dangerous people along the way, and forging a small army of warriors who want to fight along with her to destroy the people who took Lugh away.

Many of the reviews that I’ve read of this book spend a lot of time complaining about the language and style of writing used by Young. Saba speaks in a strange English dialect that is a bit odd at first, but easy enough to get used to (much easier than reading an Irvine Welsh novel -- at least you don’t need a glossary!), and the text doesn’t have any quotation marks to spell out who is speaking. I think this is a minor issue and actually works well with the particular story. If nobody from Saba’s time even knows how to read or write, then to me, the language fits.

Supposedly, this is the first in a proposed trilogy (shock!). I”ll be sure to pick up the next one to see what happens to Saba and her crew.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CR Review #38: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

First things first, I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I've read every single one of his books (except for maybe Danse Macabre) and as many of his short stories as I could get my hands on. I love figuring out how threads of his stories link to other stories (most of which link to the Dark Tower series, which I adore). I first read The Shining when I was in 8th grade (and my mom even got it out of the library for me) -- it scared me to death, and I loved it. When I read the Stand a few weeks later, I was so scared I couldn't sleep for days. And then I read it again as soon as I finished it. And over the next few decades, I devoured them all. Even the forgettable ones with weak endings (hello, Lisey's Story)...and it seemed like lots of recent ones have had endings that have disappointed lots of fans (Under the Dome was a great story and idea, but the ending didn't quite hold up to the first 700 pages. And don't even mention the end of The Dark Tower to most fans).

I'm very happy to report that while 11/22/63 isn't perfect, it is definitely more like Stephen King of old -- a huge story with richly drawn characters, and a chilling and fitting ending that works ideally (I guess we have the wonderful Joe Hill to thank for that, as Mr. King thanks his equally talented son in the afterword for helping him to correct the ending. If you haven't read 20th Century Ghosts yet, run out and get it right now. It is awesome.).

11/22/63 tells the story of Jake, a high school teacher in Maine (surprise!) who ends up traveling through a "wormhole" in time to 1958, with the task of stopping the JFK assassination in 1963. Along the way from Maine to Texas and from 1958 to 1963, Jake changes a few other things -- he stops a man from killing his family, he prevents a young girl from becoming paralyzed, and he makes money by placing bets on sporting events that he already knows the outcome to. And then he gets to Texas, settles down, gets a job teaching at the local high school, and he falls in love with the town librarian. And all the while, he wonders about "the butterfly effect" that is always discussed in time travel stories -- how will the small things he changes in the past change the future?

Meanwhile, he studies and follows Lee Harvey Oswald from his arrival in Dallas after defecting back from Soviet Russia (with his beautiful wife and baby daughter in tow). Jake rents apartments near Oswald and even spies on him with tape recorders and binoculars. He decides that if he can prove that Oswald was the attempted assassin of General Edwin Walker -- an outspoken anti-communist (someone took a shot at him in his Dallas home in April 1963, but missed), then the odds were higher that he was, in fact, the sole shooter from the sixth floor of the book depository.

But if Jake stops Oswald, how will this change the future? If Kennedy lives, what happens next? Does the US still get involved in Vietnam? Does his brother Robert decide to run for president in the future? Does he live or die? What about Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement? And what about the people that Jake helped along the way -- the family who lived because their father didn't kill them in a drunken rage in 1958? The girl in the wheelchair from rural Maine? And his beloved Sadie, the Texas librarian? Do they fare better or worse in the new version of the future?

King also includes some sly references to past works -- some of the kids from It appear at the beginning of the book, the Yellow Card Man (I'm guessing he's a "breaker" or something like it), and of course the town of Derry, Maine. And my absolute favorite reference: to Dwight Holly, the fictional FBI agent from James Ellroy's American Tabloid trilogy. American Tabloid is one of my all-time favorite books (Note to self for 2012 Cannonball Read: re-read and review American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's A Rover).

Glad to see King back in his groove.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CR Review #35 - #37: Some so-so books I got on Kindle for less than $2

Ever since I got my iPad, I've been reading a lot more Kindle books than I did with my actual Kindle. I think I just like the option of being able to do other things in between chapters (check email, look over my to-do list, etc.). So I've been reading books that are free or in the $1.99 OK (Glimpse), one forgettable (Bridesmaid Lotto), and one terrible (Slim to None).


Glimpse, by Stacey Wallace Benefiel, is the first in a trilogy (of course!). It tells the story of Zellie, a teenager in Oregon. She is the pastor's daughter, has an annoying little sister and a terrific best friend, and a curious ability to tell when and how people are going to die. It turns out that she has a hereditary power, passed on to the first born daughter of each generation, as her mother sort of explains. At her sweet 16 party, Zellie gets to dance with the boy she is in love with, Avery, and she has a vision of them together in the future -- she is pregnant and covered in blood, and he is lying in the middle of the road, dying.

With the help of her grandmother and aunt, Zellie learns to make sense of her new abilities (and finds that she can do even more than she knew), and make sense of her vision of Avery, and how she might be able to prevent it.

Not a bad read, but honestly, I probably won't follow up with the next two installments unless they are put into the same price range (not dying to find out what happens for $9.99).


Bridesmaid Lotto, by Rachel Astor, is also the first in a series of stories. I've read a lot of stupid "chick lit" stories over the years, and this one has to have the most ridiculous plot ever. Josie wins a contest (entered by her mother) to be a bridesmaid for a socialite who is marrying a man who's brother happens to be the biggest movie star in the country. While there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Josie and the movie star will fall in love Notting Hill-style, the writing isn't awful and the characters are mostly well formed (I liked her flamboyant friend Mattie), so it wasn't completely painful. You could do worse for a $0.99 Kindle book.


Slim to None, by Jenny Gardiner, was the worst of the bunch. The story of a NYC food writer who wakes up one day to discover that she is too fat to continue her job. Her boss puts her on leave for 6 months to lose weight and get her life in order. Meanwhile, her husband who loves her no matter what wants to have a baby, she discovers that she has a secret bunch of half-sisters, her dog almost dies, and she becomes best friends with a homeless man who is actually a multi-millioinaire. And of course, she loses tons of weight and finds true happiness.

Terrible, across the board. Poorly written, terribly edited, and such a bad story, I don't even want to give it another second's thought.

Friday, October 28, 2011

CR Review #34: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

So, so, so far behind on my reviews. I'm having trouble even remembering what some of the books were about...but when I looked at the cover of this one, my memory was jostled and it all came back to me.

What Happened to Goodbye is the story of McLean (hey, that's the town I live in!), a senior in high school who lives with her father after her mother's affair and her parents' messy and very public divorce. Her dad has a weird job as a restaurant consultant, and he moves from town to town constantly, leaving McLean to constantly have to start over socially. As she goes from school to school and town to town, she reinvents herself, creating new personalities that fit with each situation (and new names, too, usually variations of her middle name, Elizabeth).

Until she gets to her new town, and by accident she is just known as McLean, and she begins to discover her true self -- A basketball loving girl who takes care of her dad and ostracizes her mom. She meets new friends and a potential boyfriend (the boy next door, of course), and gets involved with the community while working on a big project at her dad's new restaurant.

I've never read any of Dessen's other YA novels, but might give them a chance (if anyone can recommend a good follow-up, please let me know). Her writing is honest and fun, with likable, real characters and dialogue.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

CR Review #33: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

Maine is the story of three generations of Boston-Irish women. They live in the Boston suburbs, they summer in Southern Maine, they struggle with their Catholicism, and they drink. As a Boston-born Irish girl (who often spent the summers in the exact same neighborhood as they do in the book), I thought I'd pick it up and see if it rang true.

The Kelleher family is a typical, fictional Boston Irish family. Lots of drinking, lots of repressed emotions, lots of reliance on Catholicism, and tons of secrets. Alice is the matriarch of the family, a widow who likes to drink and doesn't hold her tongue. She goes to mass every morning, and resents her late husband for the family he left her with that she doesn't particularly want. Kathleen is one of Alice's daughters, a recovering alcoholic, divorced and living a new life (that her family doesn't try to understand) out in California. Maggie is Kathleen's daughter, a young writer living in New York who finds herself pregnant and suddenly single. And Ann-Marie is Alice's daughter-in-law, a Martha Stewart-esque housewife, always striving to look perfect on the outside (while hiding lots of imperfections on the inside, of course).

The book switches narrators with every chapter, and more or less reads like a soap opera. But that's ok -- I'm pretty sure this was released and advertised as a "summer beach read", which is exactly what it should be. Lots of gossip and family secrets are brought out and the family learns how to live with and without each other.

Of particular interest to me was the focus the book made on the terrible fire at the Coconut Grove nightclub in Boston in the 1940s, after a BC/Holy Cross football game, where hundreds of young people were killed. Growing up in Boston, we always heard stories from our older aunts and uncles about the fire and how it affected every family they knew.

If you are looking for a gossipy, quick read, then by all means, give Maine a try. Maybe next summer I'll pick up one of her other books for a light beach read.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

CR Review #32: Mile 81 by Stephen King

I am way behind in my reviews, so I thought I'd do a quick one for this "Kindle Single" short story by Stephen King.

I'm a huge King fan, and I downloaded this story two weeks ago, just as I was on my way to see him speak over at George Mason University, where he received an award. As I assumed, he has a terrific public presence -- he is a gifted and easy speaker, very much full of humor and humanity. He spoke for about an hour, and even did a quick reading from his in-the-works novel "Dr. Sleep", a sort-of sequel to The Shining, with Danny Torrence as the main character. The bit that he read was about soul-sucking vampires who drive around the country in big RVs, going from town to town on the highways. You can see part of that reading here.

While I was waiting for King to come out on stage, I started reading Mile 81 (and almost finished it, as it was only about a 30 minute read). Mile 81 is the story of a mysterious car that stops over in a deserted, closed rest area on a busy Maine highway. And the mysterious car starts doing horrible, other-wordly things (readers of books like From a Buick 8, Hearts in Atlantis, or the Dark Tower books will see a tie between this story and the "low men" described in those books). And in true King fashion, only the children are clever enough to figure out what to do, as the adults around the die grisly deaths.

Totally worth the $2.99 paid to Kindle for reading this -- always a good sign when King's stories make you wish they were longer (instead of the huge, long books that sometimes --ahem, Under the Dome -- go on too long).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

CR Review #31: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I have a thing for pop culture and trivia. I love having useless bits of information stored away in my brain, ready to be suddenly useful at a moment's notice. I even used my knowledge to get on Jeopardy (and *humblebrag* win a few times). But then I had three kids, and didn't find my ability to instantly name all 8 Bradford kids on Eight is Enough quite so useful. But it did help me to keep up when watching shows with clever dialogue like Veronica Mars or The Gilmore Girls (watched all 7 seasons in a row on dvd in the middle of the night when kid #3 was a newborn), or reading books like The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and getting more references than anyone else in my book club (actually, not much of an accomplishment). So it was with great joy that I stumbled upon Ready Player One at the library recently, and am here to tell all of you pop culture children of the 80s, that this is a book you must run out and read RIGHT NOW.

Ready Player One is the story of Wade (avatar name Parzival), an overweight, nerdy teen living in the Oklahoma of the near future. The world now exists in two realms: the regular day-to-day world, and the online, virtual world of OASIS. OASIS is a game/online world that has taken the actual world by storm. Kids go to school in OASIS. People have jobs in OASIS. You can fall in love and get married in OASIS -- without ever actually meeting your spouse in real life. The creator of OASiS, a very Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-ian character named James Halliday, who died several years before the story takes place, created a contest, wherein users of OASIS could follow clues to recover three "keys", meet several challenges, and then become the new leader of OASIS and inherit Halliday's immense fortune.

Wade and a few of his online friends attempt to do just that, while outsmarting the government, virtual hackers, and millions of other gamers. Oh, and I didn't mention that Halliday was obsessed with the 1980s, so almost everything related to the contest refers to the tv, movies, music, and video games popular during that decade, as well as other popular Sci-Fi favorites like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and all things Joss Whedon. While I didn't play a whole lot of video games in the 80s or listen to the same kind of music as detailed in the book, I still got a laugh out of most of the references

Ernest Cline writes with an enjoyable, breezy, conversational style that immediately hooked me and and pulled me into his world. I'm pretty sure this is his first book, and I look forward to reading anything he may write in the future.

Friday, September 16, 2011

CR Review #30: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Kate Morton. And then I read a few engrossing reviews of The Distant Hours by various other Cannonballers, and now I can't imagine not reading everything that Kate Morton has ever written.

The Distant Hours is the story of Edie, who lives in 1990s London. She works in publishing, has just broken up with her live-in boyfriend, and needs someplace to live that fits her budget. One day, while Edie is visiting her parents, her mother receives a letter in the mail that was written in the 1940s but was in a lost bag of mail, recently recovered. The letter sends Edie's mother into hysterics, and sends her crying up to her bedroom. Over the coming weeks, Edie gets bits and pieces of information from her mother (who she is not particularly close to) about the letter and about her secretive past, including the amazing fact that during WWII, her mother (Meredith) was sent to live in a castle in the countryside with three mysterious sisters. It turns out that the castle in question was where Edie's favorite book was written, "The True History of the Mud Man".

Edie visits the castle and meets the sisters and becomes obsessed with finding out more about her mother's time there in the 1940s. Meanwhile, she moves back in with her parents and gets to know more about her mother and her past.

The book jumps from the 40s to the 90s with ease and we find out more about the castle, the sisters, and a mystery that binds them together with young Meredith (and how the mystery relates to the letter that Meredith receives in the 90s). The book is pretty long -- over 500 pages -- and honestly, I had no idea how the mystery was going to wrap up and was pleasantly surprised that it was something I hadn't even considered.

I loved Morton's writing style -- beautiful and gothic, with an extraordinary attention to the detail of the war era. I have already recommended this book to several of my "anglophile" friends, and just picked up another of Morton's books at the library.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CR Review #29: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

A few weeks back, just when I was finishing up my original "half-cannonball", I put off writing a review for a book that I didn't like, in lieu of one that I enjoyed (thank you, Major Pettigrew!). I can't put it off any longer. I need to tell you about my dislike for The Unnamed.

The Unnamed is the story of a man named Tim, a busy lawyer in NYC with a big house in the suburbs and a doting wife named Jane. Tim suffers from a mysterious disease (so mysterious, it is indeed unnamed) that causes him to stop whatever he is doing and immediately start walking. It doesn't matter if he's in the middle of a trial, or asleep in his warm bed, or fighting with his wife or daughter. He just has to get up and walk until he falls down from exhaustion.

Tim and Jane try all kinds of doctors and treatments, but nothing works. After a few months, Tim usually stops walking and goes back to the remnants of his life. Jane tries to keep a backpack at the ready for him, so that whatever the elements Tim finds himself in, he'll survive (including a cell phone, so she can pick him up when he falls down tired).

After a few battles with his disease, things get worse for Tim and he simply takes off, leaving Jane and their daughter alone, thinking they are better off without him and his strange problems. And then Tim walks. And walks and walks and walks. And along the way, he loses his mind, some of his toes and fingers, and most of his previous identity.

The story of The Unnamed could have been a riveting one. But I just couldn't stand Joshua Ferris' writing style. He uses 20 words when 2 or 3 would do, not to be eloquent, but just to be clever. So annoying. A few years back, I had tried to read his debut novel, "And Then We Came to the End," about jobs in the crazy years (I had worked and been laid off from lots of those jobs, so I expected to enjoy this one), and couldn't even make it halfway through the book. His writing ruined the story for me -- his pretentiousness really was a turn off for me.

The one good thing about this book was that it was the first library book that I read on my kindle. So, yay for that.

First Day of School

Can't believe first day of school already came and went. Sent B off to second grade (loves her English teacher, can't remember her French immersion teacher's name, but I'm sure we'll get that sorted out!), and C off to Kindergarten. He was so fired up about taking the bus!

At the end of the day we had two tired, but happy kids, and were short one lunch box, but otherwise I'd say the day was a success.

Friday, August 26, 2011

CR Review #28: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is a short, bittersweet, beautifully written novel about love and loss. Mia is 17 and has a pretty good life -- she is a senior in high school, applying to Julliard in NYC to play the cello, she has a loving and cool family, a smart and understanding best friend, and a beautiful and cool musician boyfriend named Adam.

One snowy morning, Mia and her family (mom, dad, and younger brother) go for a drive near their rural Oregon home, when a truck slams into her family car and kills her family, leaving her gravely injured. Mia finds herself disembodied from her physical self -- she feels no pain, but she can't feel anything. She can't be seen or heard, but she can see and hear those around her. She is rushed to a local hospital and a trauma unit does everything they can to save her while Mia's friends and remaining family members gather at her side.

Most of the story is told in flashback, and we learn all about Mia and her family, her love for classical music, as well as her relationship with Adam. And as Mia flashes through all of her memories, she begins to wonder what will be easier and better for her to do: to let go, and be with her family, or to stay and fight through the pain and her injuries.

The writing is beautiful, and I found myself tear up a few times (mostly when she described her little brother, as I have a son about his age). A short book, I read it pretty much in one sitting, but a moving one. I'll be sure to pick up the sequel "Where She Went" when I see it at the library.

Friday, August 19, 2011

CR Review #27: Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Here is an incredibly brief review for the fun, fluffy Spoiled, co-authored by the amusing founders of -- a celebrity fashion/style/gossip website.

Spoiled is the story of Molly, a teenager in Indiana. Her mom has just died and she never knew her dad, and she suddenly finds out that her father is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He asks her to come and live with him and his daughter (another 16 year old girl, named Brooke) in Beverly Hills. Brooke sees Molly as a threat to her imminent fame and fortune, and does everything in her power to let Molly know that she isn't wanted out in sunny CA.

This isn't Shakespeare, folks, but wildly entertaining nonetheless. Will Molly and Brooke become the sisters that they always wanted? Will Molly become Hollywood glam or stay the down-to-earth midwestern gal that she is? Will Brooke and Molly's dad ever put down his blackberry and take the time to get to know his girls?

Filled with pointed celebrity barbs (this certainly won't read that well in 5 or 10 years, as most of the pop culture references will make the reader scratch their heads), and amusing views of the outlandish social status scene in Hollywood, this book is a good laugh. It only took me a few hours to read, but I enjoyed it and would look for another book by Cocks and Morgan in the future.

Monday, August 15, 2011

CR Review #26: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

I originally signed up to do a half-cannonball and read 26 books. Last week, I finished reading my 26th book, which I absolutely hated. And I really didn't want it to be the book that met my goal of 26 books read and reviewed, so I put it aside and read a different book, hoping I would like it well enough to give it a glowing review.

Luckily, the book I picked up was Major Pettigrew's Last Stand.

Major Pettigrew is one of a dying breed -- an old-school Englishman who goes shooting, feels a man looks his best in black tie, and believes that the British countryside should be preserved at all costs. He lives in a small, southern seaside town on the estate where he was raised, and he is still mourning his wife, more than 3 years after her death. He lives his life according to protocol and with military precision.

And then, one day, his brother dies suddenly. The death of his younger brother affects him mentally and physically, and as he is about to collapse in his hallway, along comes Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani widow of the local shopkeeper, looking for his newspaper money. Mrs. Ali brings the major inside for some water, and shows him an unexpected kindness, later bringing a gift basket and checking in on him. The Major feels an urge to continue the friendship, and the two find that they have much in common -- a love for British literature (Kipling, in particular), love for their family and spouses, and a respect for rules and the "British way". But because they live in a small town, his friends and neighbors and confused by his sudden friendship with the "Paki" shop lady, and many derogatory comments are made, and friendships and family relations are strained and tested on both ends.

This is a beautiful love story, written with such rich description it made me want to get on a plane and go driving around the British countryside. I've read that it will soon be a movie, so I pictured Jim Broadbent (who I've loved since Iris) as the Major and Shohreh Aghdashloo as the lovely Mrs. Ali.

So glad I picked this up, and so relieved I liked it better than the other book (review of that to come...).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

CR Review #25: Bossypants by Tina Fey

While I'm definitely a fan of the off-beat sense of humor on 30 Rock, I was not a particular fan of Tina Fey when she was the head writer and did Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. But looking back, her stuff was much funnier than most of the skits and headlines that make it onto the show these days (sorry, Seth Myers). I was curious to read her book and find out which Tina was the author: the quirky, bizarre Tina from 30 Rock, or the feminist "women are funny, too" humor from SNL.

Bossypants turns out to be a nice mixture of both. Tina's book is a collection of essays, mostly about how she got to where she is today: she sold tickets for the local PA teen theatre troupe, she studied drama at UVA, she did improv at Second City in Chicago, she got her job at SNL and found herself under Lorne Michaels' wing, leading to her job today as star and executive producer of her own show. Tina is very keen to have the reader know that she is very lucky to have the job she has (comparing being on 30 Rock to being, say, a Chilean Miner was a cute way to be self-deprecating), she hates being known as a working mother, and that being famous is not as glamorous as you might think. Her detailed breakdown of what its like to be at a professional photo shoot was pretty interesting (I assumed as much about the prevalence of Photoshop, but never really considered how the stylists fit everyone into the same size dresses and shoes).

I enjoyed her detailed explanation of the whole Sarah Palin situation: how it came about that she guest-starred on SNL, what it was like playing alongside Sarah Palin, what her republican parents thought about it, etc. And I laughed out loud twice in the chapter about her teenage theater job in rural PA. But my favorite part of the book was the fact that Tina Fey has a pretty dirty mouth. I was surprised by the number of raunchy insults and swears, and I enjoyed every last one of them. Thanks, Tina Fey, for teaching me some new insults!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

CR Review #24: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Much has been written about Divergent by the CBR bloggers recently (from Ashley and Even Stevens) -- and it has all been good. I'm here as the third representative of our little group to tell you to RUN OUT NOW AND READ THIS BOOK. I loved it, its as simple as that.

Divergent is the story of Beatrice, a 16 year old girl in futuristic/dystopian Chicago. At age 16, all citizens much decide with which "faction" of the community they'll choose to live out the rest of their days. Each group values one aspect of their personalities above all else. The choices are: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the honest), Amity (the kind), Erudite (the intelligent), and Dauntless (the brave). Do you choose to stay where you grew up, and where your family will be? Or do you choose to leave for another faction, to go alone into a part of society where you'll pretty much be alone?

Beatrice makes her choice to leave Abnegation early on, and in her new community she gives herself a new identity, Tris. Tris has to undergo a seriously challenging initiation in order to become a true member of her new group (those that do not pass initiation are left "factionless", with little support/food/shelter from the city, which provides to the other 5 factions). Along the way she makes friends, falls in love, finds out secrets about her family and herself, and most importantly, finds out what is going on at the top of the government chain, and why there is so much political unrest in the city.

I can't wait to read the next two installments of the planned trilogy. I hope that the future books will answer some of the questions I had while reading this: Is every city set up similarly to Chicago? What about people who live in the country, far from the cities? What about the rest of the world?

My only complaint about this book is that I read it as a new release, and now will have to wait an incredibly long time to read book two.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

CR Review #23: Smokin' Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Janet Evanovich is a writing machine. Between the incredibly successful Stephanie Plum books (this is book #17, not including the teeny little "interlude" novellas that she publishes about Stephanie) and her NASCAR mysteries and her romance novels, she must never stop writing. I've only read the Stephanie Plum books, and can't speak for her other series, but I find them to be something similar to comfort food -- they aren't fancy, they aren't particularly good for you, but they are easy going down and make you feel a little bit better.

If you've never read a Stephanie Plum book, the plots are usually something similar to this: Stephanie works as a bond enforcement agent (aka, a bounty hunter) for her scuzzy cousin Vincent in Trenton, NJ. She isn't a very good bounty hunter, but gets "help" from her friend/coworker Lula (usually in crazy spandex outfits and heels). She has two boyfriends: The handsome cop Joe Morelli and the dangerous security expert Ranger, and she can't decide between the two. Her Grandma Mazur is crazy, carries an enormous gun for protection, and goes to every wake and funeral in town for fun. She lives alone with her hamster. She eats an ungodly amount of fast food. She gets involved with bad guys unknowingly and they always try to kill her, but she always ends up alive and safe in the end. And her car blows up at least once per book.

The new book is nothing different. Stephanie is still trying to decide between Joe and Ranger, and has a new guy, Dave thrown into the mix by her mother. While Stephanie is juggling her three men, she is also trying to track down a geriatric vampire and a huge robber who got his toe shot off by Lula (seems to me that Lula shoots a lot of people in these books and nobody ever seems to care). Meanwhile, an angry woman that Stephanie captured earlier is trying to run her down with a Lexus, and the recently out-of-prison NIck Alpha (brother of the bad guy from the first book) has vowed his revenge on Stephanie. Joe's crazy grandmother keeps putting curses on Stephanie so Joe will dump her (she'll get boils, she'll turn into a slut, etc.). Oh, and a serial killer is ditching bodies in the charred ruins of the bail bonds office (it burned down in book #16 -- they are holding their office in Mooner's RV these days). And Stephanie eats and eats and eats and eats, but is still adorable and desirable.

Just another few days in the life of Stephanie Plum.

Is this good literature? Of course not. But I always reserve the new book at the library and enjoy spending a quick afternoon in the ridiculous world of Stephanie and her friends. The next book comes out in November (seriously, how does Janet Evanovich do it? This one just came out!?!?), and once again, I'll be there to read it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

CR Review #22: The Fudge Books by Judy Blume

My soon-to-be second grader is on a reading tear these days. We've been trying to think of good books for her to read, as she is becoming awfully bored with Junie B Jones…and while we were on our vacation recently, my husband ran into the local book store and picked up Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing, remembering how much he had liked it when he read it. She devoured it and we soon ordered the complete set of books about Fudge: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, SuperFudge, Fudge-A-Mania, and Double Fudge. I decided to read them at the same time (and since I got through each one in about 90 minutes, I'll count the whole set as one book), just in case there was anything in them that might not be age-appropriate for a 7-year-old.

In case you don't remember, the plot of these books is as follows:

Peter Hatcher (the Fourth Grade Nothing in the first book), lives in New York City with his parents and his little brother Farley Drexel (aka Fudge), and later his baby sister Tootsie. Their neighbor is Sheila Tubman (whose family stars in the second book of the series). Fudge is a bit of a terror. Over the course of the books he finds new and ridiculous ways to get in trouble and embarrass his brother and family: he knocks out his front teeth pretending to be a bird, he throws tantrums in stores when he doesn't get what he wants, he is asked to leave restaurants because of the mess he makes, he swallows a turtle (yes, really), he runs away, and just finds new and interesting ways to be a complete and total pain for Peter.

I had fond memories of these books (I used to think Fudge was hilarious and Peter was the pain) and I was glad to read these alongside my daughter, as she did have a few questions while she made her way through them. In Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great, a bunch of girls have a sleepover and make "slam books" -- a term I haven't heard used in ages. I had to explain why sometimes girls try to hurt each others feelings…an introduction to the mean girls syndrome. One of the books flat-out announces the truth about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, which my daughter wasn't really ready to read about, but she took the news like a champ (I took her out to our favorite local coffee shop for breakfast to talk about it, which made things easier for her, I hope!). I was kind of surprised to read about Santa in the book, but then I remembered that my daughter is a bit younger than the target age group for these books.

There are funny little updates in the books that have been added since I read them the first time: cd players instead of hi-fi's, kids who watch Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, etc. But for the most part, they are the way I remembered them. And this time, as the parent of a five-year-old boy, I was grateful to have kids who were nothing like Fudge, and much more like Peter.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

CR Review #21: Swamplandia! By Karen Russell

I used to love when Stephen King would crank out his annual list of the best books he had read every year for Entertainment Weekly magazine. I would make notes of the ones that sounded interesting and read as many as I could get my hands on. He's had some great suggestions (Battle Royale!), so when he enthusiastically recommended Swamplandia! -- the story of a family of alligator wrestlers in the Florida swamps -- I couldn't wait to read it.

Quirky characters with strange occupations? Yes, please. A fun title? All right, bring it on.

Sadly, this is the first time that Stephen has let me down. I cannot begin to describe the distaste that Swamplandia! has left in my mouth.

Swamplandia! is the story of the Bigtree family, and the small alligator wrestling show that they put on deep in the swamps of Florida. Dad (the Chief) is the businessman, Mom (Hilola) is the beautiful daredevil that attracts crowds from miles away, Kiwi is the brainy (or so he likes to think) brother who dreams of a regular life on the mainland, Osceola is the pretty older sister, and young Ava (the heroine of the story) wants nothing more than to be just like her mother.

But this is not a happy story, nor a fun story. Hilola dies of cancer almost immediately (not a spoiler) and the majority of the book is about the family's inability to continue functioning without her. Nobody does laundry or bathes. Nobody eats anything resembling a meal. The alligator park starts losing tourists and money. Osceola becomes obsessed with the afterlife -- she makes a Ouija board and holds seances to communicate with the dead. Kiwi runs away to the mainland to work at a competitor's amusement park (the World of Darkness). And The Chief leaves the two girls home alone on the island while he goes off for weeks to try and get more money to save the park.

Without any parents or an older brother to keep an eye on them, Osceola and Ava have the run of the island. Osceola spends all of her time with her new boyfriend -- a ghost named Louis Thanksgiving, who died in the swamps during the depression -- and one day, she runs away to "elope" with Louis, leaving young Ava all alone. Ava, brave and strong, but still only 11 or 12, finds help to go after her sister and embarks on a dangerous journey to bring her home.

And this is where the story takes a turn for the worse for me. If you've read it, you know what I'm thinking about. The last third of this book is pretty depressing, and now I'm going to need some fluffy chick lit to get the upsetting parts out of my brain.

Karen Russell is a talented writer. Her ability to bring these characters to life is unquestionable. However, I wish she hadn't tried so hard to be "QUIRKY" all the time. It got old after a while. I did find the history of the Florida swampland interesting, and wish there had been more of the book devoted to that aspect of the story.

I'm sure I"ll be a sucker for more Stephen King recommendations in the future, but I'll be sure to read some Amazon reviews beforehand next time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

CR Review #20: I'd Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman

I remember reading a few previous reviews of this from other cannonballers...nobody was terribly excited about the book, yet nobody thought it was all that bad. It was simply ok. I decided to give it a try anyway, I saw it as an available swap on and thought the premise was worth giving it a go.

I'd Know You Anywhere is the story of Eliza (who used to be Elizabeth), a married, stay-at-home mom of two kids living in the Washington DC suburbs. Her life is pretty normal, until one day she gets a letter in the mail from a man named Walter, and everything in her life starts to change.

Walter is a man on death row who kidnapped and raped Eliza when she was 15 years old and held her captive for 6 weeks. Walter was also convicted of killing at least one other girl (but the reader knows it was actually a lot more than one), and attempting to rape several others. His death sentence is approaching and he reaches out to Eliza to finally apologize to her, but also to see if he can manipulate her into helping him get a stay of execution by bringing new details from the case out into the open.

Sadly, my fellow cannonballers were right. Although there are times when I really wanted to like this book a lot (her descriptions of what it is like to be a stay-at-home mom in DC are spot-on! -- I would have liked to read a book all about that aspect of her life), the story of her kidnapping and Walter's sudden appearance in her life simply weren't that interesting to me. Putting it back on the list for and sending it back out into the world...

Birthday Season

Yesterday we had our annual combo birthday party for the two oldest kids...I'm guessing this will probably be the last year (7 & 5) that we can get away with grouping them into one party.

We hired a bounce house from Adventures in Your Backyard. They were great, I can't say enough about how easy they made the whole process.

Start to finish, set up only took about 5 minutes.

Kids loved it. I would definitely go this route again.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

CR Review #19: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

I've always been a big fan of Dennis Lehane. Years ago, I devoured his Patrick Kenzie series of private investigator books. As a Bostonian, I enjoyed and appreciated Lehane's attention to detail and the way that he brought the city of Boston to life as its own character. One of the books in this series was Gone, Baby, Gone, which became a movie directed by Ben Affleck and starring Amy Ryan as a completely dysfunctional, trainwreck of a mother who discovers that her only child has been kidnapped. In the original novel, private detectives Patrick Kenzie and his girlfriend Angie Genarro are hired to find 4-year-old Amanda McCready and bring her home to her mother. Gripping, depressing, surprising…Gone, Baby, Gone was a great mystery.

Moonlight Mile is the sequel…Twelve years after Patrick and Angie find Amanda, they find out that she has gone missing again. But things have changed: Patrick and Angie are married and have a young child. They find that they've been out of "the game" for quite a while and may not be 100% ready (physically, mentally, and financially) to jump back in to the dangerous world that Amanda and her mother Helene live in.

I enjoyed getting back into the lives of these characters, and was happy to read about them again. I liked that the characters had aged appropriately…grey hair, aches and pains, worries about health insurance and high cholesterol, and felt that the decisions they made -- both good and bad -- reflected well on how the characters had aged and changed as a married couple and as parents.

I much prefer these Kenzie/Gennaro mysteries to some of Lehane's other work (Mystic River and Shutter Island, I'm looking at you). Plus, as a graduate of Holy Cross, I'm always happy to read any book that starts off with a few good Boston College jokes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cutting the cable

Today we began our life as a cable tv-free household. We decided to cut the cord for the summer as a test, and see how it goes just using our Roku box for streaming any movies and tv we want a la carte.

I can't imagine this will be a problem -- Netflix has lots of pbs shows for the kids (they love Martha Speaks, Fetch with Ruff Ruffman, and Word Girl), and lots of Doctor Who for me to still catch up on.

I actually think we won't even notice until (if) football season starts in the fall.

I will miss my daily viewings of Pardon the Interruption and the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

CR Review #18: Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

I'm not (and have never really been) a particular fan of Rob Lowe. Other than The Outsiders and Class, I don't really remember seeing any of Rob's movies in the 80s, when he was a huge star. I didn't really care about the "brat pack" and I thought he was way too pretty for my tastes. It wasn't until after his infamous video tape from the DNC that I became a bit more interested in what he was up to and the choices he was making: Bad Influence and Masquerade certainly weren't really good movies, but they were ok for a friday night rental. He was funny in Tommy Boy and Wayne's World, but only because he had really small parts. Loved him as Robert Wagner in the Austin Powers movies, simply because his role was ridiculous. I never watched the West Wing, but thought he was pretty good in the Stand (as a deaf/mute, no less). And I think he's funny on Parks & Recreation.

I recently saw him making the rounds on the cable news talk shows, talking about his new book and his political views, and had to admit I was somewhat interested by what he had to say. So I headed down to the library, picked up his new autobiography, and sat down for 4 or 5 hours to read it.

I really enjoyed reading about the process of making The Outsiders, and how devastating it was for him to find him almost completely cut from the end version of the film. I liked how he took the time to call out colleagues and friends of his who had made the biggest influences on him with their professional and pleasant behavior (nice things to say about Bill Murray, C Thomas Howell, Mike Myers, and Christopher Walken). I appreciated that he had some brutally honest things to say about the unpleasant world of Hollywood, his struggles with sobriety and monogamy, and he why he and his wife live outside of LA and have not encouraged their kids to be a part of show business. His stories about his political involvement were also interesting, especially his time on the Dukakis campaign trail.

Hands-down, the most entertaining stories in the book were his encounters with Matt Dillon throughout the years. Each time he crossed paths with Matt, the anecdote made me laugh out loud.

What was disappointing to me were the bits that simply didn't appear in the book. Little to no mention of his relationship with his brother Chad. A bit odd, I thought. Almost nothing about his teenage relationship with Melissa Gilbert, who has nothing but bad things to say in her own book about the way she was treated by him.

In a nutshell, a quick and entertaining read, especially for anyone out there who had a fold-out poster of the Outsiders cast from Dynamite magazine hanging in their junior high locker.

Monday, May 16, 2011

CR Reviews #15 - 17: Delirium, Before I Fall, Matched

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Matched by Ally Condie

I picked up both novels by Lauren Oliver at the library a few weeks ago, after having read a few reviews here on CBR3. I was intrigued by the many positive things said about her writing style and her originality, and most of all, her ability to really paint a picture of a real teenager.

I first read Delirium (not for any reason other than that it was a new release from the library, and would be due sooner). Delirium is the story of a futuristic society that has outlawed love. Love has been found to be the cause of all of the world's problems, and when citizens turn 18, they have a procedure (a lobotomy? seems to be something like that) that leaves them incapable of love, and sends them on their way to live an emotionless, stepford life with a partner chosen for them by the government and children they don't particularly have any attachment to.

Lena is almost 18 and about to undergo her procedure, when she meets Alex, a mysterious and handsome young man that introduces Lena to another way of life, where people make their own choices and have their own feelings. Lena begins to question everything she's ever known, including what happened to her mother…as a child she was told that her mother -- who had undergone the procedure unsuccessfully several times -- had committed suicide because of her "delirium". As Lena begins to remember more about her mother, and Alex reveals more about the lies being told to the public by the government, Lena wonders about her own future, and if she can possibly change it.

I didn't love this book, but will check out the next installment in the planned trilogy (by the way, why is every YA book part of a trilogy?), as I am interested in finding out what the government is hiding and whether or not their initiatives are global, or strictly something going on in the US, and am also curious about Lena's mother.

I'm quite glad that I read Delirium before I read Before I Fall. If I had read Delirium second, I doubt I would have even finished it, as I would have been completely disappointed. Before I Fall is a beautifully written, painfully true-to-life account of what life as a teenage girl is like.

Before I Fall is the story of Sam, a popular senior girl at a posh suburban Connecticut high school. She is a part of the most powerful clique in the school (clearly, the "mean girls"), and in the opening pages of the book, not a very nice person. In the first chapters, she and her friends go to a party, drink excessively, and get into a car crash, that seemingly kills Sam.

However, when Sam wakes up the next morning, she's not quite sure if she is alive or dead. Sam is then forced to relive her last day on earth over and over, until she changes her life and her relationships for the better, and can finally be at peace.

More than just a teenage version of Groundhog Day -- really a very moving and beautifully written story of teenage friendship and relationships. My one complaint (which has been noted by other reviewers here) is regarding the ending and the character of Juliet…but I won't get into the details for those who haven't read the book yet. I just wonder how Sam's choice will really make Juliet's life any better…to me it seems like Juliet might actually be worse off in the end.

Lastly, I finished reading Matched, by Ally Condie, sort of a partner for Delirium. Matched also tells the tale of a futuristic society, in which all choices are made by the government (the Society) -- food is provided, jobs are assigned, spouses are chosen, and even the date of your death is prearranged.

Cassia and Xander, best friends forever, have just been "matched" together to become husband and wife. When Cassia decides to find out more about her future with Xander and turns on a small computer with information about him, she instead finds that maybe he isn't her perfect match after all. She sees another boys face -- the face of another friend, Ky Markham.

Cassia finds herself coming into contact with Ky more and more, and can't help but wonder if he is her soulmate instead of Xander. Ky and Cassia begin a dangerous, secret friendship, growing ever closer and closer, until of course, the government steps in and tears them apart.

Again, this book is the first in a proposed trilogy…the second installment should be out later this year, where we can find out if Cassia can ever be with Ky, and what the government is covering up. Like Delirium, I'm not desperate to know what happens to Cassia, but am quite curious about the world in which she lives, so I'll probably pick up the next book to find out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

CR Review #14: A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I had been reading lots of reviews for this book, mostly positive, and mostly intriguing. I made a note to put it on my library list, and then forgot about it. Then it won the Pulitzer prize, and I made a note to check my library list to see how long the wait was. Still wasn't dying to read it, but curious nevertheless.

And then, one day, I read a tweet that made me push it right to the top of the library waiting list…a tweet from John Taylor of Duran Duran. He called it the greatest book ever and told everyone to run out and get it immediately. As a lifelong fan of Duran Duran, this was the sign that I needed that it was time to read this book.

A Visit From the Good Squad is made up of a bunch of inter-weaving chapters, crossing different eras in time and different locations around the world, all more-or-less dealing with the same group of characters. We meet Sasha, a kleptomaniac who lives in New York City and works for a record producer. In the next chapter we meet her boss and learn about his family and his neurosis. Then we flash back 30 years and find out how he was in a rock band and meet the girl who was in love with him from afar. And in each chapter after that, we hop from character to character, era to era, city to city.

I really enjoyed the first 2/3 of the book, loving the story of the rock & roll and punk lifestyle and finding out more about the tertiary characters in that world. But I didn't love the end of the book -- 30 pages of powerpoint and then a futuristic chapter. Interesting and original, but just not for me.

I'll still give Jennifer Egan another shot, as I found her language and characters to be rich and lifelike (someone else in the CBR3 reviewed The Keep, so that's next for me). Sorry, John Taylor, this was not the greatest book ever. I guess this is why I've always been more of a Simon LeBon girl.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

CR Review #13: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Amy is 16 years old and has just split up with the first love of her life, Jason. She and her parents are moving away. Where are they moving? Oh, just to a planet 300 light years away. It seems that the Earth is in crisis and a team of settlers are being sent to a new planet, where they can set up a new civilization. They'll just have to be frozen for 300 years, and then when they wake up, boom -- they'll be at their new home.

Except things don't go exactly as planned. Amy's sleep chamber is mysteriously unplugged and she begins to thaw. She is rescued by a boy named Elder, who lives on the spaceship, and he gives her the bad news that she's been unfrozen 50 years too early and cannot be re-frozen or she will die. Elder is being groomed to someday lead the inhabitants of the ship (under the wing of the current leader, simply named Eldest). He quickly falls in love with Amy, and she just might be ready to have feelings for him too.

The book is a sci-fi teen romance, with a little bit of mystery thrown in. Who unplugged Amy? Why are other sleep chambers being unplugged, and their occupants left to die? Why does everyone on the ship seem so lack any sort of emotion? What is Elder's role in all of this?

This is the first in a planned trilogy of books about Amy and Elder. I'm not sure I"ll continue with the series, but then again, I'm not exactly the target audience. I applaud the originality of the story, but am not sure I cared for the resolution of the big mystery at the end, and was not particularly wrapped up in the characters.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

CR Review #12: Gunn's Golden Rules

Even though I have never watched a single episode of Project Runway, I am a big fan of Tim Gunn and his belief that everyone is beautiful and that all we need are a few good pieces of clothing and someone to show us how to wear them. I picked up his book on a whim, thinking it might give some fashion tips (as a stay-at-home mom of 3, I definitely need a few), and was somewhat disappointed to find that this was another sort of book altogether…but it wasn't a bad book and in the end I was glad I read it.

Gunn's Golden Rules basically gives Tim a chance to rant and rave about the lack of manners in our current society. He complains about the lack of written thank you notes, "helicopter" parenting, casual Fridays, and bad tipping in restaurants. Many of his complaints are valid: emails sent instead of a handwritten note after a death are clearly inappropriate; people in the service industry are actually human beings and should be treated as such; parents -- not children -- should be blamed for the ill behavior of their kids, etc.

He also touches briefly upon his upbringing and the difficulties he had growing up gay in a very straight household, and he mentions his suicide attempt as a teen.

I would have liked more names to be named in his stories about divas in the fashion industry, but I'll make do with the few ridiculous stories told about Anna Wintour and Diane Von Furstenberg.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CR Review #11: The Waste Lands

The Waste Lands by Stephen King, is book #3 in the 7-book Dark Tower Series. (My reviews for books one and two can be found here).

The book picks up shorts after the end of book 2. Roland and his two new gunslingers, Eddie and Susannah, are beginning their quest to find the Dark Tower. They quickly find their way after meeting Shardik -- a 70-foot tall robotic bear, and "guardian of the beam" (the beam being basically an invisible path that leads to the tower).

Meanwhile, Roland is slowly going insane. When he entered the body of Jack Mort toward the end of book 2, he stopped Mort from pushing Jake Chambers into traffic, thus saving his life. This makes Roland wonder: If Jake never died, then Roland never met Jake at the waystation, and he never let Jake die under the mountains. Young Jake Chambers is going through the exact same thing back in 1970s New York -- did he die? is he alive? Jake shuffles through life, opening every door he sees, hoping that this door will be the one to take him back to Roland's world.

Jake ditches school during finals (when he opens his backpack to reveal an English paper he doesn't remember writing -- about Roland, trains, something named Blaine, and the Truth). He heads downtown and finds himself in a bookstore (owned by Calvin Tower, of course) where he feels the need to buy two books: Charlie the Choo-Choo (a kids book about a train) and Riddle-Dee-Dum (a book of riddles with the answers torn out). Outside, he happens upon a vacant lot, and inside, the most beautiful rose he has ever seen -- and he knows that it must be protected at all costs.

Back in Roland's world, Eddie has dreams and visions that help him formulate a plan to bring Jake over to their where/when from New York, and eventually the ka-tet of Eddie, Roland and Susannah get Jake over to their where/when and they continue their journey. Along the way, they meet Oy (my second favorite, after Eddie), a racoon-like creature called a Billy Bumbler, and Jake insists that he join them on their quest.

Eventually, they come to an ancient city called Lud (which looks very much like New York), and Jake is taken captive by a man named Gasher, member of the Grays faction of Lud (the opposing faction are the Pubes). Gasher's leader is the Tick Tock Man, and they live beneath the city in an ancient bomb shelter. Roland and Oy rescue Jake, and shoot up the bomb shelter, leaving everyone there for dead (Tick Tock is actually not dead, and is saved by the Ageless Stranger, who we know as Randall Flagg from The Stand).

Meanwhile, Eddie and Susannah race across the city to find a train (who goes by the name of Blaine) that can take them out of Lud and across the Waste Lands, over 800 miles closer to the Tower. Blaine will only take them if they entertain him with riddles. Blaine intends to commit suicide with Roland and his team on board, unless they can stump him with a riddle that he can't answer….

And its there that the book comes to a rather strange and sudden ending.

In rereading these first three books, I'm sort of disappointed now to have to move on to Wizard and Glass -- a book I enjoyed so much when it first came out, but now I'm too impatient to get back to the story and don't want to have to sift through hundreds of pages about Roland and Susan and Cuthbert. I'm thinking if I have time, I'll read Salem's Lot again before reading the Wolves of the Calla, so I can try and remember the details about Pere Callahan. Looking forward to getting back into the story, for sure.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

CR Review #10: I Think I Love You

A few years ago, I think right about when I had my first kid, someone gave me a paperback copy of I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson. It was the story of a working mom who somehow manages to have a full-time job, raise children, keep her house in one piece, and keep her marriage together, all with a British sense of humor and sensibility -- Kind of grown up Bridget Jones. Not a great book, but at the time, I guess I was in the right frame of mind for it and enjoyed it.

Then the other day at the library, I saw her new book, I Think I Love You, and decided to give it a whirl.

This is the story of Petra, a young welsh girl in 1974 who is OBSESSED with David Cassidy of the Partridge Family. She and her friends live and breathe David, even though her strict German mother does not approve of pop music and would much prefer that Petra spend her time practicing the cello. The story alternates chapters with a young writer at the official David Cassidy fan magazine, a new college graduate named Bill, who just doesn't quite understand the obsession that girls have with Cassidy.

The 1974 section of the book culminates with David's 1974 concert at White City, where a young girl was actually killed by the surging crowd of girls trying to be closer to Cassidy. Scary. Petra and her friends (or enemies -- lots of "mean girl" stuff going on behind the scenes here) also enter a contest to win a trip to meet David on the set of the Partridge Family, sponsored by Bill's magazine.

Turn to 1998...Petra's mother has just died, her husband has left her, and she is cleaning out her mother's closet. She finds out that 25 years earlier, she actually won the big prize to meet David Cassidy (this is not a spoiler, it provides this info on the book flap) and she calls the magazine to claim her prize.

Of course, now Bill is the big boss at the huge publishing company and the two head off to Las Vegas to meet Cassidy, along with Petra's childhood friend Sharon. And yes, Petra and Bill fall in love.

A quick, easy read. Probably more fun for Pearson to write about David Cassidy (clearly, she was a fan) than for me to read about him, but I understand her point about (mostly) innocent teenage obsession. Substitute Simon LeBon for David Cassidy, and I could have been Petra. Recommended if you ever picked up a copy of Tiger Beat magazine.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

CR Review #9: The Drawing of the Three

And so we move on to the second of the Dark Tower books (click here for my review of book one, The Gunslinger), The Drawing of the Three.

I'm pretty sure that this one is my favorite of the books (my least favorite, without a doubt, is book six, The Song of Susannah. Bluch.). In this story we are introduced to two of the new members of Roland's "ka tet" (a group bound by destiny), Eddie Dean and Odetta Holmes. I am a sucker for Eddie Dean, and love everything about him, so that's probably why this one is my favorite (note to Ron Howard and Brian Grazer: I know you're probably going to screw this movie/miniseries up. But please be nice to my Eddie. Thanks.).

As the story begins, Roland finds himself on a beach, waking up in the surf. He sees enormous lobster creatures (dubbed lobstrocities), who immediately attack him and eat one of his toes and two of his fingers before the end of page 2. And so, Roland makes his way down the beach, dying of blood infection and wondering how and when he will "draw" his companions: The Prisoner, The Lady of Shadows, and The Pusher.

Roland comes upon a massive door, free-standing on the beach. On the front of the door it simply says "THE PRISONER", and when he opens it, he finds himself in the mind of Eddie: a cocaine mule and heroin addict, living in New York City in the 1980s. Roland "draws" Eddie into his world and his "when" by pulling him through the door (along with enough antibiotics to improve his health for the time being).

The next door they find is labeled "THE LADY OF SHADOWS" and it opens upon Odetta: a young, beautiful, paraplegic (she lost her legs after being pushed onto the NYC subway tracks) African-American in the New York City of the 1960s, who just happens to be schizophrenic (her other personality is a nasty young woman named Detta Walker, who was "born" when Odetta was a young girl and a brink was dropped on her head, putting her in a coma). Odetta and Detta are not aware of each others' existence.

Roland and Eddie spend much of the time while searching for the third door wondering about Odetta/Detta and what to do about the two. Odetta is lovely and beautiful (and Eddie falls in love with her immediately) but Detta is dangerous and clever and plots to kill Eddie and Roland.

The third character who is "drawn" is a sociopath named Jack Mort ("THE PUSHER"), who just so happens to be the same man that once dropped a brick on Odetta's head, and who also pushed her in front of the subway a few years prior. And if those coincidences weren't enough, when Roland enters his mind, he is also planning to push young Jake Chambers into traffic to his death. Roland stops Mort from pushing Jake (which causes Roland to lose his mind in book three…), uses his body long enough to get more antibiotics and bullets for his guns, and then drags him back through the door to the beach.

When Roland and Mort appear on the beach (where Detta is waiting to kill Roland and has left Eddie to be eaten by the lobstrocities), Detta and Odetta merge, battle and become a new, third woman: Susannah Dean. Mort is eaten by the lobstrocities on the beach.

Roland, Eddie & Susannah leave the beach and head to the woods to continue on the quest for the Tower.

Confusing? Absolutely. And sadly, the least confusing and most straightforward of the books.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

CR Review #8: The Maze Runner

While I am certainly no longer a young adult, I just finished the YA novel The Maze Runner by James Dashner.

The Maze Runner is the story of Thomas, a teenager who wakes up to find himself in a slowly rising elevator, with no memory of who he is or how he got there. When the elevator stops, he enters his new home, the Glade, and meets his new community...all fellow teenage boys with no recollection of their lives before coming to the Glade.

The Glade is a self-sufficient community surrounded by towering stone walls -- they have a small farm where they can grow fruits and vegetables, they have cows/pigs/chickens for fresh meat and milk, and everyone has a job to keep the Glade running.

But what lies outside of the massive stone walls? An enormous maze, with miles of pathways and patterns that change every night. Oh, and the maze is filled with disgusting, horrific, deadly creatures called Grievers. Yuck.

Thomas quickly adapts to his new life, and even becomes a Runner -- charged with the responsibility of mapping out the maze every day and keeping track of what has changed on a daily basis. And making sure to be back in the Glade every night before the maze doors close and the Grievers come out to play.

I won't give away the ending or any of Thomas' background information to any potential readers. This is supposedly the first in a trilogy of books...not sure I'll follow through and finish up the story. I just wasn't all that interested until the last 15 pages or so, when for me, the story actually started moving.

Monday, February 14, 2011

CR Review #7 : Nellie Oleson!!

Yes, I read "Confessions of a Prairie Bitch". I picked it up and started reading, and didn't stop until I was finished. It was extremely entertaining.

I'm not usually a biography person, but I saw this at the library and suddenly had flashbacks to all those Monday nights when I was 5 or 6 years old...waiting all day for Little House on the Prairie to come on tv, and getting so mad at that Nellie Oleson every time she tried to do something mean to Laura Ingalls. I decided on a whim to give it a try and see what Allison Arngrim had to say. Honestly, I expected it to be mostly about her life post-Little House, as an AIDS activist (I remembered reading about her activism after her on-screen husband passed away from AIDS). And yes, there was plenty of interesting information about her life as an AIDS volunteer and her friendship with Steve Tracy (who played Percival on Little House). But there was so much more that I did not expect: the crazy childhood stories (she grew up in the Chateau Marmont!), her crazy show-biz family, the horrific sexual abuse scandal, her life-long friendship with Melissa Gilbert, or the fact that the girl who played Mary Ingalls was the devil incarnate.

Its a really quick and entertaining read that I would recommend to anyone who ever watched Little House, her descriptions of the actors and characters from the show are so well painted on the page, and so easy to get a feel for. I'm thinking its time for me to introduce my oldest daughter to Little House now. Here's hoping she'll enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, January 31, 2011

CR Review #6: The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger is the first of seven Dark Tower novels written by Stephen King. Along with the 7 books, there are also countless SK short stories and novels that either tie directly (The Stand, Salem's Lot, Hearts in Atlantis, Eye of the Dragon) or indirectly (The Mist, It, The Talisman, Rose Madder) to the plot of this massive tale. And yet, when I talk to most people who enjoy reading King's novels, I only know one other person who has read all 7 of these. Too bad. This is a great, epic story (say what you will about the final reveal of book 7...many were disappointed, or even angry about it, but I thought it was the right ending).

The Gunslinger sets the basics for the massive story to come. It tells the tale of Roland Deschain, last of the gunslingers from the Kingdom of Gilead (akin to a knight of the round table), and his quest for the "man in black," the one person who can tell him what he needs to know in order to continue his journey to find the Dark Tower -- which holds the key to all the questions/answers of the universe.

While Roland chases the man in black, we learn a bit about his past (how he grew up, how he "came into manhood", what happened to his home, etc.) and about his world in general. While similarities to our world exist (the song Hey Jude, Amoco gas pumps, subways), there are enough differences that we aren't sure if this is the future or an alternate world.

Along the way, Roland encounters a boy named Jake Chambers, from New York City. Jake tells Roland that he died by being pushed into the road (by a man in a black cloak) and run over by a big Cadillac, and then suddenly found himself alone in this strange land. The two become traveling partners and Roland comes to love the boy as his own.

And then Roland finds out that in order to find the man in black he'll have to choose between the boy and the Tower.

This book is mostly a set up for the second in the series (the excellent Drawing of the Three), but sets a good pace and draws a detailed picture of our hero (or I guess, anti-hero).

I've read this book at least three or four times, but this is the first time I've read it since finishing the entire series. I was surprised at how many "clues" there were to the ultimate reveal of the story (note, this is the updated version, not the original version published in the 1980s).

Looking forward to getting through the rest of the books before seeing The Dark Tower movie that's been talked about so much recently. Right now I'm trying to see Javier Bardem as Roland...not quite working for me yet, but we'll see...

Monday, January 24, 2011

CR Review #5: Never Let Me Go

I love novels and movies that can be described as "period pieces". Jane Austen. The Forsyte Saga. Merchant Ivory movies starring a beautiful Helena Bonham Carter. Brideshead Revisited.

However, like Elaine Benes, I hated The English Patient. Hated, hated, hated it.

I also hated The Remains of the Day. Lots of my friends and relatives were surprised by my hatred for these beautiful, award winning films. Earlier this year I saw a preview for the movie Never Let Me Go. It looked interesting until I saw that it was based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the Remains of the Day. But I asked a few friends and they all recommended the book, saying it was a great story with a huge surprise twist ending. And I love little Carey Mulligan, so I thought I'd give the book a try and then see the movie.

So I gave in and read it. And now I can add this to my list of disappointments.

As eloquently detailed by many CBR-ers before me, Never Let Me Go is the story of Ruth, Kathy and Tommy, three young friends who grow up together in an alt-version of England. They go to boarding school together in the idyllic British countryside, where they are encouraged to be artistic. They become friends, they fight, they flirt, they fall in and out of love, they "come of age".

And all throughout, we learn about what their true purpose in the world is, and what the future holds for them. But I wasn't all that shocked or surprised by the ending, and honestly, I didn't really care. The book itself is beautifully written. Ishiguro truly has a way with describing the beauty of England. However, I just didn't connect with any of the characters (especially Ruth, which I suppose is how I'm supposed to feel) and didn't really feel anything when their destinies were revealed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

CR Review #4: Room

Seems like everyone is reading Room these days. And like everyone else, I have to say, this is an extremely well-written, mesmerizing tale that I did not particularly enjoy.

As many CBR reviewers have already explained, Room is the story of "Ma" and "Jack", a mother and her 5 year old son who are being held captive in a small, 11x11 shed out in the backyard of a man called "Old Nick". The story is told from the perspective of Jack, who has never known any life other than that of Room. Halfway through the book, Jack and Ma escape (not a spoiler) from Room and then have to struggle with their adjustment to the real world.

While in Room, Ma and Jack fill their days with exercise, arts & crafts, baths, reading, and games. Jack is allowed to watch a little tv (he loves Dora!) and his bed is inside an old wardrobe (so he doesn't have to see Old Nick when he comes to visit Ma at night). Jack thinks he has a pretty good life with Ma inside Room, until one day Ma decides to tell him that there is a whole world outside and that they need to be a part of it.

What I really liked about the book was the voice of Jack. At first I thought it was going to annoy me to no end, but it really worked. As a parent, I was amazed at the never-ending list of games and activities that Ma had dreamed up for Jack. However, ultimately I found the story somewhat upsetting (again, probably because I am a parent), especially when the book described some of Ma's decisions once they had been rescued.

While I didn't really "enjoy" reading Room, I think I would feel comfortable recommending it. A fascinating story told in a unique way.